Arts & Culture | The Power of Poetry, with William Sieghart, Jeanette Winterson and Helena Bonham Carter

The Power of Poetry, with William Sieghart, Jeanette Winterson and Helena Bonham Carter

For 15 years, the power of the spoken word has been at the heart of Intelligence Squared’s mission. Argument and debate, we believe, can move, persuade and create real change. Now, in these anxious and divided times, we held a special event that celebrated the positive, transformative force of another kind of spoken word – poetry. William Sieghart told the extraordinary story of his bestselling book, The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul. This is no conventional collection but one created from Sieghart’s own, personal experience of prescribing real poems to real people in need. Every poem is matched to a specific condition: fear of the unknown, unrequited love, stagnation, purposelessness, convalescence, oppression.

Joining him in conversation were novelist and poetry devotee Jeanette Winterson. Together they explored poetry’s uncanny ability to calm, console and, above all, connect us to the minds and feelings of others. Finding the right poem at the right moment is not just a problem shared, Sieghart says, but a problem transformed. It is ‘to discover a powerful sense of complicity, and that precious realisation: I’m not the only one who feels like this.’ It is to forge a connection with ‘this stranger who understands – and what results is a sort of peace.’ Bringing the poems to dramatic life were a cast of star actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Sue Perkins, Jason Isaacs and Tom Burke.

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